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Bill Moyers: Our Media Is Polluted by Toxic Lies About the Risks Posed by Lead

There’s no safe level of exposure to this dangerous toxin still lurking in millions of homes, but that truth is consistently under attack from industry-funded public relations excecutives.

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GERALD MARKOWITZ: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Your book concludes that after all these years, lead is still a problem.

GERALD MARKOWITZ: Absolutely. You know, in some ways the story of lead is a great success. We’ve reduced the amount of lead in children's blood and we've gotten lead out of gasoline and we've gotten lead out of paint. But there are still children who have too much lead in their blood. And it is endangering their life chances, endangering their futures.

BILL MOYERS: Does it kill?

DAVID ROSNER: It doesn't kill anymore. It used to send kids into convulsions, into comas and into paroxysms and ultimately killed them up until the 1980s. But we've gotten lead levels down to the point where we're now discovering new, even in some sense, more troubling problems.

BILL MOYERS: What's the most important thing you've discovered about lead since we last talked?

DAVID ROSNER: Well, that in what we would once have considered miniscule amounts lead in children can cause neurological damage, causes behavioral problems, attention deficit disorders, dyslexia. Studies show that children who are exposed in utero can have permanent neurological changes that put them at risk later in life for learning disabilities that lead to failure in school and IQ loss. There are a whole series of problems that we never even thought about in the old days, so to speak.

GERALD MARKOWITZ: It's shocking that we know that children can be prevented from any kind of lead poisoning if they are, live in a home that is lead free. And this is no longer, you know, a priority of the country. We still have many homes millions of homes that contain lead that are endangering our children.

BILL MOYERS: Is it the cost of getting rid of the lead from homes that are already established and we're living in, is that the main barrier?

DAVID ROSNER: For some it is. But the history of public health, and that's what we are, historians, is rife with examples of decisions that are very costly that we decided are necessary for the population as a whole.

But somehow because we have in some sense accepted a definition of what the problem is and who the victims are and we've devalued their lives, we decided not to address this issue because it's quote, “too costly.”

GERALD MARKOWITZ: We really made a morally bankrupt calculation that it is less costly to endanger the health and futures of our children rather than to protect them by paying to remove lead from their homes.

DAVID ROSNER: The message really should be is we need to really think of lead as one symbol, one symptom of this much larger problem of the pollution of our children, pollution of their lives, the pollution of all of us from a whole host of toxic materials that we are, we've grown accustomed to using and tend to put out of our consciousness.

BILL MOYERS: When I first met you, people were saying, scientists were saying, that the smaller the dose of lead, the exposure to lead, the safer it would be.

GERALD MARKOWITZ: Scientists now say that it is very likely there is no safe level of lead, that any amount of lead in a child's body, in a child's blood, you know, causes a variety of neurological and intellectual problems. So this is really a sea-change in our understanding of what, the amount of a toxin that causes a problem for children.

 
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